Bukowski’s “God”: Part 2

For those that missed it, make sure to check out my first article – Bukowski’s “God” Part 1.

Do much poking around the web looking for Bukowski and Jeffers and you’re sure to run across references to an article by Ted Olson entitled “Bukowski and Jeffers: Two Poets Listening to Life.” Published in the now-defunct Charles Bukowski Newsletter in 1992, while Bukowski was still alive and listening instead of perhaps just listening, it is a short but excellent work, establishing not only the close relationship between the two–as poets, not as men–but also how that relationship changed over the course of Bukowski’s career.

Olson identifies the object of Bukowski’s first, or at least one of the earliest, proclamations of Jeffers as his “god.” It came in a letter written in the early 1960s to the poet Jory Sherman, and Bukowski explained that Jeffers was “the only man since Shakey to write the long narrative poem that does not put one to sleep.” In his article, Olson chronicles the half dozen references Bukowski made to Jeffers as his poetic career unfolded.

In 1963, Bukowski published It Catches My Heart in Its Hands, a title borrowed from a line in Jeffers’ “Hellenistics”: “Whatever it is catches my heart in its hands, whatever it is makes me shudder with love / And painful joy….”

In 1972, Bukowski saluted Jeffers directly, in “he wrote in lonely blood.” It was solitude and even loneliness that beckoned Bukowski as well as Jeffers, and ironically but not surprisingly it was that need for solitude and need to live in loneliness, that ultimately drove Buk away from his  idol. For, as Olson notes, by 1981, when again Bukowski would write of Jeffers, he has turned his back on him. In “the poets and the foreman,” Buk has heard the siren call of solitude and says, “now I’ve gotten rid / of Auden and Jeffers and / the foreman / and to be alone / like this / is the way / of course.”

A few years later, Bukowski, although having “gotten rid” of Jeffers, is still saying goodbye. In 1984′s  ”Goodbye,” he writes, “goodbye Jeffers, I can only think that the death of good people and bad are equally sad.” Jeffers had by then been dead twenty-two years.

Still the long goodbye continued. In 1986, again Bukowski affirms, “I’ve finally shaken / R. Jeffers … from my belltower.” By now, we know not to believe him.

In 1990, with less than half a decade of life left, Bukowski penned his last words on Robinson Jeffers, the ghost he could not ultimately banish from the tower. Like Auden and Celine and Hemingway and all the writers in Bukowski’s pantheon, Jeffers stayed with him ’til the end.  Olson concludes s his poignant and illuminating piece with a quote worth re-quoting here. Speaking of Jeffers, Bukowski wrote:

His voice was dark
A rock-slab pronouncement
A voice not distracted by
The ordinary forces of
Greed, cunning and
Need

He was on a hunt
Listening to life. . .
He was closer to beast than man, yet more man than man

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